News February 2003 Issue

In the News: 02/03

Study Reveals One In Three Americans Suffers From Arthritis
As many as 70 million—one in three —U.S. adults suffer from arthritis or chronic joint symptoms, according to new numbers released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The study confirms that arthritis and other rheumatic conditions comprise the leading cause of disability among adults in the U.S. Worse, according to CDC epidemiologist Dr. Charles Helmick, an aging population, an obesity epidemic, and the country’s sedentary lifestyle will cause the prevalence of arthritis to continue to climb. So much for the bad news. The good news: These numbers should serve as a national wake-up call to focus attention on arthritis as a public health problem. Says Dr. Helmick, these newest figures “[should convince] government agencies, organizations and individuals to set and act on goals to prevent and manage this disease.”

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Stem Cell Therapy Held ‘Promising’ For Tissue Reconstruction
Adult stem cells have not only proven to be effective in healing bones, they may also prove to be a boon to orthopaedic medicine. According to Dr. Joesph Iannotti, chairman of the Cleveland Clinic Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, “Stem cells hold great promise for the future of orthopaedics, especially in the areas of reconstructing all types of tissues, as well as in improving the healing of diseased tissues.” Adult stem cells, derived from living bone, tissue and muscle, can transform themselves into any type of cell to form other body parts. Mesenchymal stem cells, taken from bone marrow in the pelvis, can become bone, cartilage, muscle or tendon. Adult stem cells can be particularly advantageous in tissue and cartilage regeneration because they can be taken from a patient, redirected in their specialization, then transplated back to the patient, making it unlikely that the cells will be rejected.

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Cancer Drug Claimed To Help RA Sufferers
Rituximab, a popular cancer drug marketed under the brand name Rituxan, may also be effective in relieving the pain of rheumatoid arthritis. Rituximab is used to treat cancer of the lymph nodes by targeting cells in the immune system which manufacture antibodies that contribute to the disease. The findings came after two studies of people with rheumatoid arthritis who were also taking methotrexate or cyclophosphamide, drugs commonly used in the treatment of RA. Subjects who took rituximab, either alone or in combination with one of the two RA medications, showed marked improvement. They not only tolerated the drug well, but it provided relief for six months or more.

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New Bone-Graft Procedure May Minimize Spinal Fusion Pain, Speed Healing
A new bone-graft technology, developed by Oklahoma surgeon Dr. Scott Robertson and approved by the FDA, may eliminate the pain of bone-harvesting surgery in spinal fusion surgery. The procedure involves pairing Infuse Bone Graft, a biologic chemical that promotes growth tissue, at the fusion site with a fusion cage that holds the degenerated spinal disc and vertebrae in the correct position. Although it will be up to a year before the procedure’s effectiveness can be fully evaluated, it is likely, claims Dr. Roberston, to result in less pain, less blood loss, less time spent in surgery, and faster healing.

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Celebrex Safer Than NSAIDs? FDA Says No, Change The Label
Celebrex, which has been marketed as a more stomach-friendly alternative for arthritis sufferers than less expensive nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and diclofenac, did not show a greater safety advantage in a recent FDA trial. Al-though the FDA admits that the use of aspirin—known to cause stomach bleeding—by Celebrex users during the study may have skewed results, the agency nevertheless ordered that labeling for the drug should include the standard warning about risks associated with all NSAIDs, including ulcers, bleeding and stomach perforation.